Women’s Mission to Israel Participants Return with a Lifetime of Memories

Pictured l. to r. Erin Coleman, Jessica Cohen Banish, Deborah Oleshansky, Christie Weimers, Bobby Lipschutz, Rachel Whitney, Leah Barnhard, Debra Carmichael, Rebecca Kuduru, Carolyn Hecklin Hyatt, Leslie Kirby, Stephanie Kirschner

In mid-October, The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee sponsored a Women’s mission to Israel. Trip chairs Leslie Kirby and Christie Wiemers were initially inspired to bring a trip of this nature to life after conversations with long-time Nashville community member and philanthropist Libby Werthan. Their goal was to have a trip planned by, led by, and attended by women in our Nashville community. Their hope was to “create an immersive experience that celebrates the impact of women in our tradition while raising awareness, challenging bias, and reinforcing commitment to the Jewish community.” For some of the 15 participants, it was their first experience visiting Israel, and for some, it was another of many opportunities. One thing was clear, though, for everyone, it was a trip of a lifetime. Below are some reflections from some of the participants.



Christie Wiemers, Mission Trip Co-Chair:

Every time I'm asked about the Women's Journey, I'm at a loss for words. It wasn't just a trip to Israel, but a true experiential event. I think of the feel of the sand in Tel Aviv, the smells of the markets, the taste of the food fresh from Machne Yehuda, the sounds of people preparing for Shabbat, and above all the emotional tug to the land and women of Israel. This was my third time in Israel, but being there and sharing it with this dynamic group of women made it feel new and exciting all over again. Many of us may not have ever met before the Journey, but are now bonded in a way that only this experience could make happen.

Erin Coleman:

I thought the trip was an amazing blend of culture, politics, and tourism. We learned why Israel is so important to us and American Jews and why it is important for us to continue to love and

support it. But even more important, I loved getting to know and connect with the power of the women in our community. It was one of the most meaningful Israel trips I have ever been a part of.

Patty Stelmaszak:

My trip reflection: the Mediterranean Sea, powder-soft sand, wonderful speakers, the best food ever, religious reflection, beautiful architecture, moving museums, gasp-worthy marketplaces, making new friends, learning experiences, floaty—salty water, admiration for the Federation. Love.

Carolyn Hecklin Hyatt:

Personally, I found the journey inspiring in so many ways. I was in awe of the women on the trip and so inspired by the Israeli women we met. The food was amazing, the scenery was beautiful, and I felt connected to my Judaism in ways that I had not felt in so long. Israel as a country has magnet pull, and I am totally hooked…maybe it’s something they put in the hummus, but I can’t wait to go back.

Ann Davenport:

My trip reflection: The experiences we had inspired hope. Israel’s problems are not dissimilar to those we face here in the US. I found the trip to be uplifting and encouraging.

Stephanie Kirschner:

This trip was truly wonderful. It was so inspiring to meet with women who make such a positive impact on Israel. I also appreciated that this trip didn’t have much overlap with my previous Israel experience 17 years ago, and I got to experience even more of the beauty and history of Israel. I enjoyed getting to know and bonding with women in many different seasons of life but all within the Nashville Jewish community.”


The last night, participants led their own Shabbat mini-service in the park in Jerusalem. There was singing, praying, and tears as the group recapped the trip. One of the most meaningful moments of the mission.

Leah Bernhard:

A trip to Israel with my daughter, Rachel, had been a dream for a very long time. When Rachel told me the Nashville Jewish Federation was planning a trip, I decided we had to go.

The trip was beyond my wildest expectations. Anyone can eat in Israel, but add dinner with Hila Solomon at her home in Tel Aviv overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, lunch with Tali Friedman in the Machne Yedua Market, lunch with Shlomit Naimi-Naor, an amazing Jewish poet, and then food vendors everywhere!

The most unusual parts of our tour were not the standard Israeli experience. The Haklai High School students, Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel, Dr. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, mayor of Haifa, and Pascale Bercovitch, an Israeli Paralympic athlete, were so important to understanding the issues and politics facing the country and yet, they are the people who make the country so special. Add Miri Nitzan, our guide, and Raya Weiner, our on-site magician, who were always there to share, explain and keep us going.

There are no words to express my appreciation for all of the people, time, resources, and just plain chutzpa it took to make this trip happen.

A most sincere thank you for an experience I will never forget.



Rebecca Kuduru, Erin Coleman, Jessica Cohen Banish, Stephanie Kirschner

Rebecca Kaduru:

As someone newer to the Nashville Jewish community, I really appreciated being able to connect in such a meaningful way with so many women. I met lifelong friends of all ages who I never would have otherwise, and I cannot wait to keep nurturing these relationships now that we are all back in Nashville together.”

Rachel Whitney:

I am just so grateful for Christie, Leslie, Deborah, Carolyn & Jessica and everything they did to make the trip happen. It was so special to share this incredible experience with my mom and so many amazing women from our community.”

Ann Botts:

It was an inspirational trip of a lifetime.

Bobbi Lipschutz:

Fifteen acquaintances left for Israel and came back friends...we really bonded over our shared experience together...I got a lot of pleasure watching the ones who had never been to Israel seeing how they now have a connection to Israel...Sunsets on the beach, lots of yummy food, meeting Israeli women doing important work, ancient ruins, and shopping at the shuk!!

L-R- Anne Davenport, Carolyn Hecklin Hyatt, Orthodox, Feminist Poet, Slomit Naimi-Naor, Deborah Oleshansky, Leslie Kirby, Christie Wiemers, Bobbi Lipschutz. Leah Barnhard, Debra Carmichael, Jessica Cohen Banish, Patty Stelmaszak, Ann Botts, Erin Coleman, Rebecca Kuduru, Rachel Whitney, Stephanie Kirschner


Add Comment
Subscribe to posts